Google images is an amazing tool to find anything visual. Type in any combination of words and instantly find thousands and thousands of images that relate to a specifically created topic. Ben West and Felix Heyes an artist and a designer have now developed a conceptual art dictionary that makes the ability to search for instant images tangible and easy to navigate. These two mad hatters have taken an average dictionary and “googled” it. Each of the words in the dictionary have been replaced by their appropriate google image result. For those who are wondering that is 21,000 words, now elegantly displayed as images.
This piece says more about the state of human society in the year 2012 than anything else. Ben West, one of the creators of the book says that it is “totally uncritical and unfiltered”. It is just what it is and nothing more. Having mentioned that West reckons that the book is mostly filled with “revolting medical photos, porn, racism, or bad cartoons”. Given the current state of affairs around most of the world the rest of the dictionary must be an amusing mix of kitten memes, symbols of financial institutions failing, and Justin Bieber.
The Google Dictionary helps to understand how we associate words and images. How do simple modern phrases such as “meme” translate into a single image? Even complex words in an average dictionary take on a particular meaning when viewed as a popular image result. The word is no longer just a word and suddenly jumps into the visual and a greater emotive state. For Google this is a great way to understand how accurately their images pair with their written counterpart. Many words would seem quite obvious, such as sunglasses. Other words although seemingly straight forward, yield perplexing results when using the search engine.
Artists are using Google in a myriad of ways and it appears Google is quite happy to promote the ways in which artists are analyzing the search engine giant. Only recently Google held their Photography prize with none other than Saatchi Gallery alongside their own photography exhibition, Out of Focus. When Google calls, the masses answer, and they did for this competition. Google has even created a way for art orientated users to scour the world wide web for galleries and exhibitions through their Google Art Project. The key to making this idea successful, like the dictionary is Google’s massive image database. The Art Project would be nothing without the nearly full page images to accompany the gallery, museum, or artist search. In the same breath, the dictionary would be much less interesting, if it didn’t have photos, and was, just a dictionary.
For all of the positive things that Google does to promote it’s work within the arts, it also struggles to keep itself out of lawsuits every step that it takes. Piracy and Copyright problems haunt Google regularly, tirelessly trying to appease both users and producers of images, and other material that potentially is used and distributed. Balancing problems not with solutions necessarily, but certainly with creative ideas such as the photography competition and the Art Project keep Google from appearing like an angry internet demon dragged down with lawsuits and a constant strife to mend it’s image. This has been quite successful for the company although Art Project has yet to be a major phenomenon. By attaching it’s name to Saatchi in relation to Google’s photography competition it seems to at least be able to contact the right sources within the art world.
The dictionary filled with Google search images may all be a little bit fluffy and somewhat pointless, but it does make a comment or two about society within the year 2012 in an artistic fashion. Porn, racism and medical photos are in this year according to the dictionary, perhaps a 2013 edition is in the works. The concept dictionary pieces are not being printed on a large scale at the moment. The designers are planning on releasing a limited amount of special edition copies to test the waters of the market. Time will tell how interested customers will be in buying the dictionaries or if they will turn to Google directly for their definition and spelling needs.
Words by: Portia Pettersen © Artlyst 2012
Image created by Felix Heyes and Ben West